EU looking to a future of open and agile Smart Cities!

EU looking to a future of open and agile Smart Cities!

If we try to link together two simple words: “smart” and “connections”, we would be surprised by the amazing pattern we can build. As a matter of fact, the European Union has discovered this beautiful interaction, for instance, with the Erasmus Study and Erasmus Placement programs. Those programs allow students and trainees to give another chance to our world, to open their mind, to know mostly through new perspectives living with a better understanding of the humankind. This is just connecting the potential in a smart way; give a chance of a deep development to something on power. And what could be the result if we apply the same way of thinking to daily life, particularly to the cities where we live?

On the 9th of January, a whole day of conference, titled “The Connected Smart Cities Conferences 2018: Cities Driving the Digital Transition” took place in Brussels.
Why the word “driving”? As matter of fact, local forces like cities are becoming today global forces; they are empowered according, for instance, to the bottom-up factor. Those cities, which are local and global at the same time, have the duty to be the leader for the progress, to be the light for other cities which have not the same tools yet. The procedure for combining all the dynamics into something bigger seems to be digitalization. This might lead cities to produce their own services, and therefore being more independent and competitive in a sphere plenty of opposing forces. The strategy abovementioned has main phases such as “distribution”, “cities as experts” and last “integration of the new” in a long-term transformation picture whose focus is IT(Information Technology).
In this domain, European Commission willing to make a lot of efforts in order to identify the pioneer cities, for the digitalization, integrating expertise. Indeed, European Commission presented, last May, the “Digital4Development” strategy which would help to mainstream digital technologies into European Union development policy together with other partner countries and involving the private sector as well as the public sector, contributing, then, to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and inclusive growth. The priority areas indicated by the EC are mainly four: “promotion of access to affordable and secure broadband connectivity and to digital infrastructure; promotion of digital literacy and skills; fostering of digital entrepreneurship and job creation; promotion of use of digital technologies as an enabler for sustainable development”. Digitalization in that way could have a greater transformative potential, creating, for instance, impact on people lives such as empowering women and girls, new jobs, enhancing democratic governance and transparency.
Another considerable project started earlier this year, and financed for the next two years, is called SynchroniCity whose purpose is to deliver an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled Digital Market for Europe and Beyond by piloting its foundations at scale in 8 European cities and 3 others, connecting 34 partners from 11 countries over 4 continents. That synchronicity among the cities leads to a new vision, a new pattern which we can call “sharing cities” with a shared mobility, e-bike sharing, building shared energy systems (…). It is composed, for instance, by 3 “lighthouse cities” which become a guide for other small cities whose goal is to replicate the technology capacity and the capacity distribution of their “city leaders” with a constant development of them. Hence, a provider of a shared digitalization system could also help people find a way to come together and have a fair and a quicker government.

However, all this advance does not come without a price. There is no question that companies, municipalities, research studies need to access to a great amount of data in order to create progress, nevertheless collecting data and accessing to them with mostly an (un)informed consent given by citizens is what we can call “invasion of privacy” and so, violation of human rights. In the interest of European citizens, the EU approved, on 14th April of 2016, regulations concerning privacy (General Data Protection Regulation) which can be claimed by any citizens of the European Union. “The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) replaces the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and was designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens’ data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy”. Also, any company located overseas (for instance, in the USA or China) is exposed to sanctions as soon as they collect personal data (information related to a natural person) in EU territory. Infringement of the rules could be severe: “organizations can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover for breaching GDPR or €20 Million. This is the maximum fine that can be imposed for the most serious infringements”.

Smart cities connected by the latest technology are certainty a way to promote an environmental friendly growth given also the fact that there might be more probabilities to create a new social area where people can come together. And despite the fact that the dark grey area remains persistent between a significant step forward and a total respect of citizens’ privacy, a lot of projects and researches are implemented and financed (mostly by the European Commission); hence we can likely look forward that all the digitalization process might move towards a more respectful pattern of human rights.

By: Deborah Ceccarello